Music and additional lyrics: Howard Goodall
Book and lyrics: Stephen Clark
Director: Joseph C Walsh
Reviewer: Ian Foster
Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark’s lush musical take on Erich Segal’s perennial tearjerker Love Story gained critical if not commercial success with its West End run back in 2010, but its beautiful music can now be heard live again with its off-West-End premiere at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley. It was always a chamber piece and so it suits the intimacy of this fringe venue well and in Joseph C Walsh’s clever and unmiked production, it provides a welcome reminder of one of the best new British musical scores of recent times.
But though it is musically excellent, the book does contain issues and they are sadly all-too-apparent in this interpretation. The story telescopes the entirety of Jenny Cavilleri and Oliver Barrett IV’s five year relationship, from its spiky college beginnings through marriage beds and [spoiler alert, although not really…] hospital beds to its tragic end, into 90 minutes of fast-flowing narrative and song. But it is so fast, so relentless, that it is difficult to really invest emotionally into the characters as they are written here – the show thus relies on pre-knowledge of the story and from the transcendent strength of the performances.
While the first of these is out of his control, Walsh is responsible for the second, and there are mixed results. Caroline Keating’s Jenny is superb (and the introduction of the character is a brilliant moment), a feisty New York Italian pianist equally adept with tossing off wisecracks or demonstrating a gorgeous musicality. But Jonny Muir never really seems at home as alpha male Oliver, ice hockey star and scion of New England society, lacking the inherent authority of those born to wealth and the charisma of a man who usually gets what he wants. They do sound lovely when singing together, it just feels like Muir would be more at home in a rôle like Avenue Q’s Princeton which would play more to his strengths.
The strength of the ensemble of supporting characters who flow around this pair is pleasing to witness though, especially in the ingenious way that the music is delivered, and Darren Beaumont’s design is most cleverly conceived, wittily allowing for the many quick changes. The harmonies of the chorus are a delight to behold throughout and just as the show winds to its end, Walsh delivers not one but two coups-de-grâce, a brilliant moment of character progression for Oliver and a beautiful final image that should bring a tear to even the stoniest of hearts.